CALGARY — As new line combinations weaved their way down the ice on Friday, Alain Vigneault was chirping pretty often during practice at Scotiabank Saddledome.
“Let’s go . . . Stay on the short side, if it’s not there, chip it and skate into it — make a play!” the Rangers’ coach loudly instructed before blowing the whistle to re-set the drill.
After a goal by the blue squad, he moaned: “White, you’re killing me!” before that group, which included J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Dan Girardi and Nick Holden, slowly headed to the bench.
Vigneault wants a little more jump from his troops and will present some new wrinkles on the power play when the Rangers face the Flames on Saturday night to begin a four-game road trip. A 10-4 start isn’t too shabby. But when things veer off course, Vigneault starts maneuvering and evaluating. As he noted, the 20-game mark, when teams make assessments, is approaching.
“I felt the last couple of games, we’ve been a little bit off at both ends of the rink . . . It was time to tinker a bit, ” he said after altering his top three lines but sticking with defense pairs he likes. He moved Chris Kreider to the left of Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, where Vesey had been; put Mats Zuccarello with Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad, and had Vesey with Boston-area pal Hayes and Miller.
“Everybody knows the chemistry that Kreids has had with Derek in the past and with Rick on the right side,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Pavel and Mika have good chemistry, and Zukie’s one of our best players, he fits in with everybody. And I put Jimmy with a guy he knows real well in Haysie, who has some good chemistry with J.T.”
One of the two power-play units now employs Nash and Kreider, who are net-front presences, but only Kreider is installed at the top of the crease. “I just like the way that Rick right now is handling the puck,’’ Vigneault said, “and among our guys, there’s no doubt that Chris is the best in front. You can barely move him and it’s tough for a goaltender to see around him.”
With Stepan and Brandon Pirri, he said, “it permits me to keep the lines together and add one piece.” Ryan McDonagh mans the point.
On the other unit, which features Zibanejad, Zuccarello and Buchnevich, Vesey will play beside the net and Brady Skjei at the point. “[Vesey’s] a good passer down low; both [assistant general manager] Chris Drury and the scouts who saw him play last year told us,” Vigneault said. “Any time on the power play that you can throw different looks at the other team, keep them guessing, it’s a positive.”